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Hardliner Raisi Is Iran's New President

By Patrick Wintour, Diplomatic Editor at the Guardian

Three main rivals congratulate candidate whose election is likely to unlock talks on reviving nuclear deal

Ebrahim Raisi, the hardline head of Iran’s judiciary, has been hailed the country’s new president after his three main rivals congratulated him on his victory and preliminary results showed he had secured 17.8m votes, a huge 14.5m more than his nearest rival.

With 90% of the votes counted, Iranian officials said 28.6 million people had cast their ballots. More than 41 million did so in 2017.

Official results will be published later on Saturday, but it appears Raisi secured well over 50% of the vote, avoiding the need for a runoff.

Raisi issued a victory statement, saying he will form a “hard-working, anti-corruption and revolutionary” cabinet. He added he would be president of all those who voted for him, those who didn’t vote for him and even those who didn’t vote at all.

His victory means all the arms of government, elected and unelected, are in the grip of conservatives, ending the uneasy dualism of the past eight years when the outgoing centrist president, Hassan Rouhani, found himself at odds with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and conservative clerics.

Rouhani’s presidency became increasingly unpopular as the US imposed sanctions that deprived ordinary Iranians of the economic benefits he had promised would come from signing the 2015 nuclear deal with Washington.

The conservative Mohsen Rezaei, and the centrist former head of the central bank Abdolnaser Hemmati both sent their congratulations to Raisi. Rezaei secured 3.3m votes and Hemmati 2.4m. Raisi secured 15.8m votes when he stood in 2017 and was soundly beaten.

Hemmati, the only non-conservative on the ballot who was seen as the main ideological challenger, arguably did not have enough time in the brief three-week campaign to shape his appeal or an attack on Raisi.

All prominent reformist candidates were disqualified from the ballot by the 12-strong unelected Guardian Council.

Hemmati said on his Instagram page that he hoped Raisi would bring prosperity and better livelihoods for the “great Iranian nation”. His campaign was hampered by being a key steward of the economy at a time when inflation eroded the living standards of the middle class.

In a televised speech, Rouhani acknowledged “the people’s elected president” without naming him. “Because it has not been officially announced yet, I will delay the official congratulations, but it is clear who received the votes,” he said.

The messages Raisi has received suggest disputes over the count, something that have marked previous campaigns, are unlikely.

Initial published results on turnout indicate the campaign to mount a boycott due to the systematic exclusion of all reformists candidates was only partially successful. Turnout was down compared with the last presidential election four years ago, but many thought it more important not to relinquish their right to vote.

Raisi’s election under US sanctions is paradoxically likely to unlock talks in Vienna on the terms for Washington’s return to the nuclear deal and Iran’s return to full compliance. Iranian officials insisted throughout the election campaign that an internal consensus existed on the country’s negotiating stance, and Raisi’s elevation will not change that position.

The talks between Iran, Russia, China and three European states have in effect been on hold waiting for the outcome of the election, partly because the Iranian presidency did not wish to give the reformists a potential political gift of the sanctions being lifted before the vote.

Raisi does not take over from the outgoing administration until next month, and talks in Vienna will resume before then.

The US took steps as the polls closed on Friday afternoon to lift a series of barriers to sending humanitarian aid to Tehran. The country has suffered 82,746 deaths from coronavirus in four waves.

Sanam Valiki, the deputy director at the Middle East programme at the London thinktank Chatham House, said: “This election is consequential because of the expected conservative reconsolidation of elected and unelected institutions not seen since the 2005 election of populist, neoconservative president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“A conservative victory under the stewardship of leading candidate Ebrahim Raisi will pave the way for a broader internal consensus on domestic reform in preparation of the supreme leader succession contest and likely provide greater assertiveness in Tehran’s position as it engages in international diplomacy in Vienna and beyond.

“Raisi’s victory portends poorly for any meaningful liberalisation trends and reveals the conservative political establishment’s confidence in asserting its agenda.”

Asked about the disqualifications of candidates, the foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said: “Many of us were surprised and disappointed but at the end of the day Ebrahim Raisi is the president of all Iranians.”

Zarif, probably the best known Iranian politician in the west, has said little during the campaign, and had rejected numerous appeals by reformists to stand, possibly knowing security forces would oppose him.

He added: “People’s apathy is a problem. We need to be careful and look in a sober way, without blaming one another, as to why people are not turning out in the numbers we expected.” Meanwhile, the Iranian embassy in London has made an official complaint after an Iranian woman seeking to cast her vote on Friday in the presidential elections in Birmingham was physically attacked.

A video put on Twitter by the Iranian charge d’affaires, Hosseini Matin, showed a fight breaking out at the entrance to the polling station. He said on Twitter he had been in contact with the family. The UK ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, was also summoned by the Iranian foreign ministry.

The Iranians claimed three people had been arrested.

© 2021 The Guardian. All rights reserved.

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